Yes, I know not everyone wants to get married, and theoretically, the qualities that make one a good parent are different from those of a good spouse – although I think the same underlying principles characterize both identities – but I can’t for the life of me understand how couples can be ready for a baby together, yet in the same breath claim they don’t want to be tied to each other in holy matrimony.
Take for instance, my good guy friend’s girlfriend who recently told him she’s ready to have a baby and that she’d actually prefer a child before a ring. Surprised by her bizarre – and out of order, in my opinion, request – I asked him how he felt about that prospectus. In terms of becoming a father he said, “if it happens, it happens,” and “he wouldn’t mind,” meanwhile on the husband front, he’s making no definitive moves toward marriage. Not exactly what I expect to hear when I’m thinking about expecting.
I am by no means an advocate for rushing down the aisle hastily, and I hate the idea of marrying someone you knocked up accidentally being “doing the right thing.” The way I see it, you’re doing the wrong thing and actually making a complicated situation even worse by trying to bandage children out of wedlock with a marriage. But for those who shy away from the commitment of marrying their current partner in favor of first comes baby then comes marriage, how is it that they don’t recognize parenthood as a union by a different name?
If two people decide to become parents and raise a child together, is that not a commitment? Are you not setting yourself up to have to deal with this other person you’re not sure you can commit to as a husband or wife for the rest of your life as a co-parent anyway? If you believe in marriage and want to be married one day, how can you not see having a child with someone as, arguably, an even riskier prospect than marriage – except for men whose only worry is losing half of their wealth in a divorce. They should know they could lose just as much in child support, though.
Even a single guy friend of mine the other night told me he’s ready to become a father but hasn’t once said anything to me about being with whoever the mother of that child may be. He seems to have an “if it happens, it happens” attitude toward marriage but fatherhood is something he’s trying to make happen like yesterday. And while we’re not all cut out to be husbands or wives – or even parents for that matter – I couldn’t stop myself from trying to explain to him that he’d still find himself in some sort of committed relationship with the mother of his child – even if they were both only simply committed to the wellbeing of their offspring. What he didn’t seem to get was my insistence that that commitment would be a heck of a lot easier with someone who was also committed to his wellbeing, whether in marriage or a monogamous/polyamorous/open relationship of some sort.
He wasn’t hearing it, and the more I listened to him talk the more I got the inkling that the real thing stopping him, and possibly some other people, from taking the marriage step and skipping ahead to the baby is a fear of not being able to be faithful. And while I applaud the ability to recognize that about oneself, it should be known that cheating isn’t any less messy when a ring isn’t involved and a baby is. Matter of fact, I’d argue that you up your chances of getting left with nothing but monthly visitations and child support payments when you cheat on someone you procreated with that way than when you cheat on someone who actually loves you and vowed for better or worse and may actually stay through the indiscretion and let you be a hands-on dad. There’s not much of a safety net for fathers in a world of independent women who already walk around with an “If I could get pregnant by myself I wouldn’t need a man for anything” type of attitude. Why set oneself up for a custody battle by spending less time choosing the mother of your child than you do your baby names? And for women, sure child support may always be an option, that is if you can track down the non-committal sp*rm donor you already knew you didn’t want in your life forever.
The role of parent and spouse are obviously quite different, but neither can be done well without a little teamwork and a whole lot of compromise. Often people shy away from marriage because they don’t want to be completely accountable to another person, but having a child with someone in lieu of a wedding is no buffer against accountability. If you think that mother is not going to make you pay for that child in some kind of way or expect you to pick your child up and drop him off at the time you say you’re going to pick him up and drop him off and not give you a headache when you don’t pick him off and drop him off at that time, you are sadly mistaken.
Maybe I take parenthood too seriously – that should look like an oxymoron to you by the way – but I think people underestimate the parental value of two individuals who are not just committed to the birth of another human being but also to each other’s betterment. When you’re not, kids get lost in the shuffle and often become pawns that can be pitted against the other, because at the end of the day, all one parent cares about is them and there’s, not the other parent and there’s. If you don’t want to marry, fine. But skipping marriage or a committed relationship and going straight to the baby is no escape from responsibility or even commitment, honestly. Going about parenthood the single, uncommitted way may sound like a good idea in theory, and for some it may work, but if I had to bet on whether that was the easier route, I’m putting my eggs in a different basket – literally.